The Friern Barnet People’s Library is set to return to court in one month’s time. The council closed it in spite of local protests earlier this year. It was then occupied and re-opened by members of the Occupy movement. It is now being run and managed by the Occupiers and local people. An on-line petition calling for the library’s re-opening now approaches four thousand. Local campaigners are working side by side with the Occupiers to raise public awareness and support. Open meetings are held regularly in the library to discuss and plan the campaign strategy. There are weekly events held by local residents such as kid’s story time, yoga classes and musical events. The library also recently featured a personal appearance by Will Self that drew over two hundred people.
On the surface the struggle is about saving a library. But the struggle is also about transforming society. It’s about building a new society in which people have control over their own lives. A society in which people support each other as equals and are empowered to uphold social justice. In this case it has taken the form of resisting austerity. But the library closure being resisted is just one battleground in the longer campaign to win a new society.
As the occupation continues new alliances are being formed, different values are being explored, different ways of relating are being practiced and greater political visions are being developed. With one month left before court we might ask ourselves “Is this about a library or all libraries?”, “is this about a community or all communities?” We might also ask ourselves “If we win this battle is it time to go home? Or are we willing to go on fighting for a new society even if we win?”
If the library is saved it will inspire other communities and help build a wider movement for a new society based on self determination, solidarity and resisting injustice. If the library is closed, on the other hand, the movement will have to raise its political aspirations. It will have to expand into more communities and it will have to raise the social cost to the system if it is ignored.